I have been reprimanded for keeping you in suspense for too long. It’s time to reveal all … in the middle of this post. No peeping!

***

The day starts well. After a delicious breakfast, our wonderful hosts drive us to the start of our walk. The walk is long and solitary. We don’t see another soul for its duration, although footprints show us that others have gone this way. The most difficult thing we do is to walk uphill through tall grass and bogs. Fortunately, the rain starts after the most difficult part of the walk. Our feet are soaking, but it’s all part of the fun … isn’t it? Finally we arrive at a beach with pillars of rock.

When we walk up the hill to the bus stop, it’s sunny and rather windy.

Back in Stornaway, we have plenty of time before the ferry leaves. We spend it in a book shop. It’s very windy outside. When someone opens the door, instead of using the revolving one, a lot of dirt flies in.

As we walk towards the ferry station, beside the sea with its high waves, we notice that no one else is going our way. Strange. Then, at the entrance to the building, there’s a blackboard on an easel. On the blackboard, in white chalk, someone has written: FERRY CANCELLED. The man behind the desk confirms that, due to the weather, this is indeed the case, and the next ferry is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30.

It takes a few seconds for the full ramifications of this news to sink in. We’re going to miss our flight to London, and D will miss his flight back home, unless…. We need some travel information, so we head for the tourist office. It’s closed. It seems it usually stays open late to serve people who arrive on the evening ferry and, as that was cancelled, they closed. What about those who are stranded on the island because the ferry back to the mainland is cancelled?

We do have some luck. We get the last room in the hotel. And it has a hair dryer which we use to dry out our boots and socks as much as possible. The smell still lingers. The woman at the desk is very helpful and finds out a lot of transport information, although, in the end, it doesn’t really help us. M1, the friend I’d arranged to stay with for two nights, is also very helpful and finds out some phone numbers for us, but we don’t manage to book anything except for another night in our house in Achiltibuie. (Luckily, it hasn’t been let out to more holiday makers.) When we go downstairs for a meal before the hotel restaurant closes, we’re still discussing our options.

One option is for D to take the bus straight from Ullapool to Inverness tomorrow. Then he’ll be able to catch a later flight to London and still arrive in time to catch his flight home. That would leave me to arrange transport to London, drive to Achiltibuie (I’ve let D navigate the single-track road up to now, as he does it so well), pack all our luggage, organise keeping the car for another day, clear up the house, deal with excess luggage on flights, drag two suitcases and a rucksack around with me for three-and-a-half weeks, …. Need I explain why this option doesn’t appeal to me?

We’re just finishing our meal when the fire alarm goes. During the meal, we’ve been noticing signs of the gale blowing outside – a hanging plant swinging furiously, one or two brave people fighting an invisible force. Now we have to leave our warm and comfortable enclave to stand in driving rain and wind without coats. It’s the last straw.

Fortunately, the alarm stops after two minutes and we all troop back inside.

The three-hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornaway is uneventful. We have a look around Stornaway while waiting for the bus to Eoropie. Eventually, the bus leaves the “big” metropolis and weaves its way to the northern tip of the island. As we go, I look out of the window hoping to see B&B signs. I see none. And only one hotel, which isn’t very near to the place where we want to start our walk tomorrow. D doesn’t seem at all worried. I don’t know why not.

On arrival, we visit an ancient church built some time between the late 12th century and the early 16th century. To get to the church we walk along a path, past a man and his dog cutting a hedge. Actually, I think the man was doing most of the work. On our way back, we see the man loading his cutting machine and dog into a van. I go up to him and ask if there’s anywhere to stay in the area. Was that brave of me? I’m better with strangers. The man recommends a place nearby. We chat to the man about the walk we’re planning for tomorrow, the weather and so on. Then we walk to the lighthouse and on past the cemetery, back to the road and on to the B&B.

True enough, there’s a house with a B&B sign, exactly as the man described. How wonderful! Or not. We approach the house full of hope. D says, “Do you really do bed and breakfast?”

“Oh no,” says the lady. We don’t do that any more. We wonder why the sign is still there. She phones the only other B&B in the area, two miles away. “Can you walk that?” she asks. “Oh yes,” we say happily in unison, but that place turns out to be full. I have visions of sleeping outside in a field. (Remember this is northern Scotland and it’s none too warm.) Then the nice lady, for such she has become, says she and her husband are willing to put us up anyway. Now this really is wonderful. We wait while they prepare the room, and then go in to find a luxurious and spotlessly clean room with an en suite bathroom. We slide in between the sheets covering a soft mattress, lay our heads on soft, welcoming pillows and sleep soundly. Our dreams possibly touch on the long and isolated walk we plan to do tomorrow, but certainly don’t reflect the calamity that is about to befall us.

We’ve been discussing it for days. I have said I don’t want to do that walk again. I remember how hard it was last time – especially the climb at the end. I make it very clear that I don’t want it.

We do the walk. 17.5 kilometres passing Loch na Sealga and Gleann Chaorachain. What lovely names! The walk is hard. And all the time I’m waiting for that difficult climb.

It never comes. There is no difficult climb at the end. Where did it go?

We realise that last time we did that walk in reverse, so that today’s scramble down the steep hill in the morning was our evening climb ten years ago. What a relief!

The never-far-away midges make an appearance this evening, but the fish and chips in a pub restaurant in Ullapool are excellent, as are the potato soup and apple crumble. So now I can add another tick – of the inanimate variety.

Eat shortbread  √
Drink cider  √
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub  X
Eat fish and chips  √
Eat salt and vinegar crisps  √
Eat scones with jam and cream  X
If summer, feel rain  √
Buy underwear in M&S  X

 

Amongst the foreigners we meet on our trips, Italians always stand out. Because they speak Italian, because they’re usually in large groups and (mostly) because they’re noisy. They shout to each other across large distances, or even small ones. On our seven-kilometre walk from Stoer Lighthouse, we can’t get away from a large group of Italians. If we go ahead, they catch up; if we drop behind, it doesn’t take long before we discover them again. I know they’re not the only people who tend to be like that. Perhaps it’s the Mediterranean air….

Surprisingly, cream and plaster have solved my fourth toe problem. Other parts of my feet still hurt though. We pass the Old Man of Stoer, a popular place for climbing. Rather them than me!

Later, we sit in view of the lighthouse, which D paints. It looks small and lonely perched on the high, protruding cliff. Below it, a large rock looks like an enormous beast lying on the sea, its front legs splayed out in front of it. It seems ready to pounce on the small snake approaching it. All around the rocks (beasts?), I see white fire in the form of the sun shimmering on the sea (not shown in photo).

Today, I agree to another walk, and another. It is a lovely day and my feet are relatively OK. The first walk, six kilometres, leads us to a beach and back.

The second, which is shorter, goes through a camping site and up to a strange little construction called Hermit’s Castle.

I wonder what happened to David Scott, who spent months building it in the 1950s, and then stayed in it for only one weekend.

EDIT: Just noticed I blogged about day 10 on 10/10/10.

Certain things have to be done every time I visit Britain. Let’s see how far I’ve got with them:

Eat shortbread
Drink cider
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub X
Eat fish and chips X
Eat salt and vinegar crisps
Eat scones with jam and cream X The ones we had were creamless
If summer, feel rain
Buy underwear in M&S X

On with day 9 and, you know what? I’ve had enough of the second person. This is ME we’re talking about, even if I am on holiday from social anxiety – so far.

***

Today’s walk, ten kilometres starting at Poolewe, is pleasant. The weather’s nice, the ground is mostly not boggy and the views are lovely, despite not having been captured by either of us. It ends at 3 in the afternoon.

“Another walk?” he says.

I laugh, until I realise he means it.

“It gets dark late here. It’s a long drive. There are a few nice walks in this area.”

“What – another ten kilometres?”

“Yes.”

Perhaps it’s the look on my face. We stay relaxing on the grass by the River Ewe.

A tasty tea in Poolewe is followed by a drive back to Ullapool and a walk around the town, which would be nicer if the fourth toe on my right foot wasn’t hurting so much. Note to self: in future, bring shoes to change into.

The dinner in the Indian restaurant is good.

Day 6: Rain stopped walks. Phew!

Day 7: Again you cover your feet with plasters and leave at 8:00 for a guided walk, meeting at Lochinver. Not much time for breakfast. You take the post bus to the start of the walk along with three others – all women.

Two of the women are accomplished walkers; the other one also walks well. You manage to keep up – just. Twice, you have to take your boots off to cross streams. The little stones dig into your feet. You wonder how the others cross so easily.

Again you take some pleasure in being better at something. Two of the women, despite living in the area, come from the south of England. You can pronounce “loch” better than they can.

In the evening, you drag your other half down the road without supper. The wrong way, it appears, when you examine the map pinned to the post office.

“We didn’t find it last time,” he complains. But this time you’re more persistent. You try every possible direction and eventually you discover it: The Coigach Community Hall [with apologies for linking to a site with a spelling mistake/typo in its first line]. Fortunately the concert hasn’t started yet, because when it does start it’s really good. North Sea Gas.

A wonderful evening that nevertheless keeps you wondering what the difference between Scottish and Irish music is.

***

Can anyone tell me?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the lyrics or a video of my favourite song which goes (roughly):

I’m looking for a job with a sky high pay
A four-day week and a two-hour day
Maybe it’s because I’m inclined that way
But I never was one to be idle

complete with actions. But I did find this:

Bowing to popular opinion, I continue with second person POV. But I reserve the right to revert to first or third or any other at my discretion. LOL

***

Only foureen-and-a-half kilometres today. The weather is good and you’re ignoring those sores on your feet. You’re also getting used to the bogs, to skirting them or jumping at the narrowest part. The river is more of a hurdle. He jumps, barely reaching the other side. You decide not to risk that, and he holds your hand while you step on a convenient stone in the middle.

You’re proud to have the upper hand when it comes to finding the way across the barbed wire fence. He tries to climb over it. You crawl underneath and he follows.

“That was our last hurdle,” he says. Maybe it was his last. You find the eighty metre climb through heather bushes very tough. And the path down to the beach is rather perilous.

The walk back from the beach is better, except for another water crossing, where sticks and stones have been positioned to assist you. From the other side, he says, “It’s harder than it looks.” You say, “It looks hard.”

You dash from the car to the restaurant. Looking out of the window, you can’t help smiling at the sight of people outside rubbing their faces. One man manages to smoke a cigarette while his face is covered with netting. Midges!

Oh dear. I’d thought I’d missed the rest of the summer by going to Britain, but today is hot and humid. Ugh! I’ll try and pretend I’m back on Day 4 … after the walk!

***

He says, “We’ll get a short walk in before the rain starts.” Actually, you were wondering whether to give your feet a rest from those boots, but seven-and-a-half kilometres – how bad can that be? You cover your sores with the plasters you had the good sense to purchase yesterday.

It’s better than yesterday’s walk. There’s an actual path to walk along, except for where you have to skirt the bogs. After an hour or so, you catch up to see him scanning the map.

He looks up. “Where are we?”

This doesn’t sound good. “What d’you mean?”

“I think we took a wrong turning.”

“Oh dear. So are we going back?”

“I think we can carry on and rejoin the path.”

You put your trust in him. A bad idea. It’s raining. The bogs are getting more numerous. And he says, “Where’s the bridge?”

From the top of a small hill, he looks back down at you. “That looks more hopeful.” When you join him, you spot the bridge. Your relief is short-lived.

A minute later, ahead as always, he says, “That looks less hopeful.” True enough, when you reach the new spot, you see a stream between you and the bridge. You walk up and down and decide there’s nothing for it. You remove your boots and socks, and clamber across the stream over slippery rocks. It’s still raining, but at least the water’s not icy.

He puts his boots on and continues without socks up to the bridge. You fear your feet would complain about that, so you walk barefoot for a little, then sit down on the wet bushes to put on socks and boots.

At the bridge, you eat a sandwich in the rain. “What are we going to do now?”

He gives one of those embarrassed laughs that say, You’re not going to like this, but. “Either we walk back along the road or we try to get back to our original walk.”

It’s another decision he’s already made. But as you head towards a point on the original walk, he looks at the map again. “Actually, this path crosses a stream – the same stream that we crossed before.”

Finally, you put your foot down. [This is where I tried to think of a pun and gave up.] “No. I’m not doing that again.”

Back you go. By the time you reach the main road, it’s raining heavily. The car is two kilometres away. Two cars approach. You stick your arm out. They wizz past. You walk back to the car in heavy rain. He drives home in light rain.

You peel off your clothes, shower, dress and go downstairs to see bright sunshine. Later, you go out to walk round the little harbour. Surely that downpour was imagined. Yet, when you return to your temporary home, the four boots in front of the fire are still soaking wet.

***

I’m thinking of reverting to first person POV for the rest. Second person is fun for a while, but then it gets tedious. What do you think?

I keep playing the song I quoted in my last post, which is here. I think it’s brilliant. I remember liking it at the time, even though I had no idea what triggered it. There was no Internet in those days. Oh well, on to day 3.

***

You know how it goes. He says, “What sort of walk do you want to do today?” You say, “Nothing too strenuous for the first day.” He says “Oh,” in a slightly mournful tone and you realise he wanted you to endorse his decision but you’ve just done the opposite.

“You’ve decided on a walk, haven’t you,” you say.

“Well, I thought we’d do the walk round the peninsular from Reiff. There’s hardly any climbing in it.”

He shows you the map. It looks long, you’re not in practice, you haven’t worn those hiking boots for a long time. You know it’s a bad idea. “All right,” you say behind a false smile. “Good,” he says behind a real one.

The flat walk, as you’d expected, isn’t really flat. It’s boggy. Each time the ground drops to a bog, you have to climb up the other side. Sometimes you have to jump across to avoid getting wet. Nineteen kilometres would have been plenty in normal terrain.

Then there’s what you’re walking on. It’s not a path. It’s more the sort of thing a guide book would call rich vegetation: long grass, areas of little bushes, anything that requires you to lift your feet higher than you would on a normal walk. This is no walk in Switzerland, where you went last year. There are no paths here; just land.

You see no one else the whole time. And he’s always well ahead of you. You like the quiet. And worry about being so isolated.

Finally civilisation appears in the form of several cars in a car park. “There’s a camping site here,” he says. “Maybe there’s a little café where we can get some tea.” You walk over to it, but there’s no little café. You walk back to the car park.

The tramp back to the car is along the road. It’s long. Towards the end, apart from the places where your feet have been getting rubbed during the whole walk, something is digging into your left foot.

But the Victorian bath in the house is delightful. It’s so long, you can lie in it fully stretched. Last time you stayed there, you didn’t have time for the bath between the children, the food, washing up and washing clothes. Now, you revel in this bit of luxury. And while you’re getting dressed and combing your hair, he makes supper. He even shares out while you sit. Luton Airport? No – paradise!